Monday, June 9, 2014

Thrills, Spills and Chills With A Side of Serendipity on Leatherman Peak. June 5-6, 2014.

I have had my eye on Leatherman Peak for a while.  Last year Cody and I had discussed climbing the north face in snow and he was planning a ski descent.  One year later we put the plan into action with Deb joining the team as well.  During the drive we had shared our recent adventures, as well as recapping last years climb of Lost River Peak together that went off without a hitch.  After a few hours we were pleased to find ourselves on Double Springs Road.  Deb and Cody had both been back here before, however this was new ground for me.  We had wondered if there were any bears in the area and the general consensus was there certainly could be and we had planned to hang our food, per routine protocol.

The original plan was to arrive at the trail head on the Pashimori side of the Lost River Range, do the approach hike and camp in the meadow at the base of the mountain to shorten the summit day.
I had heard how vicious these road were and had also read about how rough the going could be back here. When Cody had pulled off to the side of the road to investigate an odd noise coming from his truck, the reality check hit us hard. The rig had developed a fairly impressive blown tire while we were still on the not so rough part.

Cody and I promptly sprung into action to change the tire and armed Deb with a camera to snap a few photo's of what we expected to be a swift and easy, yet costly time delay.

Car jack-check.  Lug nut wrench...  Lug nut wrench...  Uh...  Hmm...

Without a wrench we were dead in the water.  As we evaluated the situation and searched for solutions, Deb noticed a truck approaching our position on the road and she flagged the driver down.  A rugged looking gentleman in the truck had a wrench and was nice enough to let us use it while he headed out to check his bear bait.  According to him, there were "bears all over the place back here."  Hu, cool, maybe we'll see one!

The pit crew went back to work on the tire change to me singing the broken tune of an old TV show theme song.  A three hour tour, a three hour tour...

So, we got the tire changed without further incident and acknowledged the fact that we were now without a spare and still had the worst of the road to come.  We drove down the road to return the wrench to the bear hunter who indicated that he had in fact tried to climb Leatherman himself two years ago, but was stopped 500 feet short of the summit.  He wished us luck and we bounced our way along what is apparently considered a road to the campground.  Despite the fact that we were behind schedule, we decided that we would stick to the plan of getting a head start and hiking up to camp for the night.  We ate dinner, sorted gear, packed up and were on the trail at 8:30.  

We figured that even though the hour was growing late, we would have little trouble getting to our planned bivy site.

We walked along at a fairly quick pace until a point when all three of us noticed the trail was beginning to bend to the north, away from where we wanted to be.  We knew there was a fork in the trail, but we hadn't seen it.  We decided to back track a bit and attempt to find a way across the river to the south side of the canyon.  Cody found a suitable spot to cross the river and hopped to the other side.  I followed right behind him and Deb was behind me, still on the other side.  She said she didn't think that she could make the jump with her pack on so I suggested that she toss it across to me.  This maneuver was less than successful.  As her pack just barely brushed my finger tips and landed in the stream, she also went into the drink feet first. Luckily she was right-side up, within my reach and easily extracted from the shallow, yet cold and swift stream.  Her pack was not so lucky and was flowing downstream.  Cody was quick on the draw and had his pack off and was retrieving Deb's with in seconds.  With Deb and her freshly soaked belongings safely in the meadow on the other side, Cody and I scouted the the area for the trail without a trace of it to be found.

Okay, now its getting dark, Deb is cold and wet, her pack is soaked, and oh yeah, its getting dark.  This has the tale-tale signs of turning epic real quick!

Option 1; stay here for the night.  Not the best idea considering the soggy nature of our current situation.  Option 2; hike back to the camp ground, get Deb and her gear dry, try to locate the correct trail, sleep and start over tomorrow.  

Option 1 seemed less than ideal, so we went with option 2.  As we neared the camp ground we saw signs marking trails we hadn't noticed when we left earlier.  We discovered the trail we were on was the Merriam Lake trail and not the one we wanted.  We also discovered that we didn't take a wrong turn, we missed it all together.  Some how, we actually started above the junction and never saw it.  Cody and Deb had GPS, I had the topo map and between the three of us, we never bothered to check before we left.  No matter, we were right where we needed to be.  We got our affairs in order and it was after 11 when I was finally in my tent thinking about the awesome 4 hours of sleep I was going to get.  We had decided to get up at 3 and roll out at 4 to accommodate our snow climb.  As it turned out, we all slept through our alarms and didn't get up until 4:15.  After another 45 minutes of hurried packing, eating and guzzling coffee, we set out on the correct trail heading toward Leatherman Pass at 5am sharp.

I still want to climb this mountain...

Despite the tumultuous events of the previous day, the lack of sleep and the early hour we somehow managed to make good time up the trail.

It wasn't long before we located our planned bivy site, an open meadow at the base of Leatherman Peak, and began scoping our line up the middle of the north face.

After a short break we began the climb up the first gully on very hard snow, which  made for easy going and good time despite the steep slope.

Patchy hard snow at low angles meant taking the crampons off for the walk through this section just below the face.  

We then hit continuous snow for 1800 feet up the face and then the real fun began.

We were making really good time and had worked hard to get here so we made sure to joke about the preceding events and take lots of pictures.

About half way up the face, the angle kicks back to about 45 degrees and maybe more in some areas.

We kicked along at a surprisingly quick pace and I called out the altitude as we ascended.
10,800!  11,000!  11,200!  

We were at about 11,800 feet when the line we were following appeared to get even steeper with significant exposure, so we decided to aim for the ridge that follows the standard route and take the class 2-3 scramble to the summit.

We treated ourselves to a well deserved, albeit short break and took in the views when Deb prompted me to smile for this photo between my curses at the awful scree in this area.  At this point, Deb had reported a leg cramp and was unsure if she would continue.  She urged us to head up while she rested her leg.  

We made short work of this really fun section of class 3 scrambling and we wished it would have been a bit longer.

After the scramble, the slope angle eased back a bit and it was a fun ridge walk to the summit with incredible views of the area with the big peaks of the Lost River Range on both sides of us. 

Deb's leg cramp had dissipated and she caught up to us quickly as we neared the summit.

During the last few steps up to the top, I turned around just in time to get this shot of Deb climbing up with Peak 11,909 in the background.

This was peak 6 of 9 for the Idaho 12'ers for me and number 3 for Cody.  Deb chalked up her second ascent of this magnificent peak, having already completed the 12'ers last fall.

Then it was time for lunch as we enjoyed our summit and the inspiring view of Mount Borah's east face. There were a few times that I personally thought I wasn't going to make it to the top.  

We snapped the obligatory Splattski summit photo and began our descent.

There was only about 20 feet of decent rock between the top of the snow and the summit.  In hindsight, the line we were on didn't look to bad at all, but we would have missed the fun scramble up the ridge.  Cody got his skis on and was making turns in no time!

The snow was still on the firm side, but not dangerous. We were envious that Cody got to ski this beautiful face while Deb and I seat glissaded.

There was a bit of plunge stepping involved between glissades while I regained the feeling in my hindquarters. We were off the face in about 15 minutes.  Gotta love it!

We saw this avalanche track that looked really fresh.  Like, it wasn't there 3 hours ago fresh, so we were pretty glad to get off the face before anymore of that happened.  Cody had also witnessed some rock fall near this area. Toward the last of the snow coverage, I had hiked out to a rocky outcrop to get some video of Cody skiing in one of the lower snow gullies on his camera.  It probably would have came out really well, except I forgot to take the lens cap off...  D'oh! 

After Cody had skied every last little bit of snow he could, we regrouped, laughed about yet another misfortune and hiked back down to camp, having seen no more than some possible bear scat.  Despite the reported bear infestation in addition to the moderately wild chain of events leading to this point, it had been a great trip.    

Luckily the rest of the creek crossings went without incident.  We arrived at our camp tired but no worse for wear, packed up, hopped in Cody's rig and began the drive out.  The spare tire, and his rig all together made it out fine as we stopped to get pictures of this awesome area.

The north face of Mount Idaho, a worthy goal indeed.  

Mt. Corruption looks very complex; we discussed possible climbing routes and ski lines of this puzzling peak.

I got my first peek at Mt. Borah's famous north face with my own eyes and my mind ran wild with the possibility of getting to climb it.  We found it funny how the string of mild to moderate misfortunes actually kind of helped us out in the end.  On the way out, we ran into the bear hunter who loaned us the tire iron and most likely salvaged the trip, thanked him again and spoke of our success.  Then we were back in Mackay evaluating the tire for the drive home.  It had survived the trials and tribulations of the rough roads through the Pashimori Valley, but would it make it back to Boise...  Looks good to me!  We only had to avert one more crisis with the bed cover almost flying off just outside of Mountain Home.  We were no strangers to danger by this point and quickly secured the cover, then we sped towards home. 

Its always an incredible opportunity to experience a new area, see things I haven't seen and do things I haven't done yet.  It reminds me that the more I see, the more I want to see, and the more I see, the less I know.

- Granola out

1 comment:

  1. Absolutely wonderful...I felt like I climbed with you. Well...sort of. vicariously. Ahhh.... Deb great job with the water episode! Wow...did Cody climb in ski boots? Nice job loved reading this and seeing the GoPro